7 Apr 2000 : Column 1263

House of Commons

Friday 7 April 2000

The House met at half-past Nine o'clock


[Madam Speaker in the Chair]

Orders of the Day

Government Powers (Limitations) Bill

9.33 am

Order for Second Reading read.--[Queen's Consent, on behalf of the Crown, signified.]

Motion made, and Question put forthwith, pursuant to Standing Order No. 163 (Motions to sit in private),

The House divided: Ayes 0, Noes 30.

Division No. 154
[9.34 am


Tellers for the Ayes:

Mr. Andrew Dismore and
Mr. Ian Stewart.


Arbuthnot, Rt Hon James
Atkinson, Peter (Hexham)
Bercow, John
Blunt, Crispin
Bottomley, Rt Hon Mrs Virginia
Brooke, Rt Hon Peter
Bruce, Malcolm (Gordon)
Duncan Smith, Iain
Forth, Rt Hon Eric
Gray, James
Greenway, John
Hogg, Rt Hon Douglas
Johnson Smith,
Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey
Key, Robert
King, Rt Hon Tom (Bridgwater)
Lansley, Andrew
Leigh, Edward
Lidington, David
McIntosh, Miss Anne
Maclean, Rt Hon David
Malins, Humfrey
O'Brien, Stephen (Eddisbury)
Öpik, Lembit
Ottaway, Richard
Rowe, Andrew (Faversham)
Russell, Bob (Colchester)
Shephard, Rt Hon Mrs Gillian
Shepherd, Richard
Soames, Nicholas
Streeter, Gary

Tellers for the Noes:

Mr. Tom Levitt and
Mrs. Helen Brinton.

7 Apr 2000 : Column 1263

It appearing on the report of the Division that 40 Members were not present, Madam Speaker declared that the Question was not decided, and the business under consideration stood over until the next sitting of the House.

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Wild Mammals (Hunting With Dogs) Bill

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green): On a point of order, Madam Speaker. I seek your advice on the fact that, before the opening speech for the Bill that was drawn sixth in the private Members' ballot could be made, those who wished to move on to a Bill that was lower down the order deployed the tactic of a motion to meet in secret. Does that not constitute a massive abuse of the process of the House, and has not a very serious Bill, which took much time to draft, been deliberately moved down the list so that one man's political ambitions may be advanced by the use of this House?

Madam Speaker: I do, of course, take these matters very seriously. The situation that we have been through today is not new; I remember being in the Chair when it was deployed on other occasions. I must tell all Members who are responsible for Bills that it is for them to see that sufficient of their supporters are present at the start of the debate.

9.48 am

Mr. Ken Livingstone (Brent, East): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

May I make it clear that I had no idea--[Laughter.] I assume that the strangest things can happen in this place, so I made certain that I was in my office by 9.10 am but, far from there having been what the hon. Member for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) called a plot to advance one man's ambition, as I was not told about it, perhaps some people thought that it might be embarrassing if I had not been here in time to move the motion for Second Reading.

The Bill should be viewed in the context of the debate that has gone on for more than a decade, during which successive private Members' Bills have been introduced. I make it clear at the start that I have seen myself simply as a vehicle to enable the more than 411 Members of the House who, a few years ago, voted for the Wild Mammals (Hunting with Dogs) Bill introduced by my honourable colleague, the Member for Worcester (Mr. Foster), to bring back what is, effectively is the same Bill.

I believe that what happened was an appalling abuse of the basic democratic rights of people expressed at the ballot box, where many people went at the last general election clearly determined to vote for candidates who would bring an end to the barbaric practice of hunting with hounds. They elected people to do so but then saw 411 Members of the House of Commons--the largest majority ever for a contested private Member's Bill, expressing the will of the electorate and the House--thwarted by all the procedural manoeuvrings.

I regretted at the time that the Government did not find Government time to help the previous Bill go forward. It was sad that, in the intervening years, no one prepared to introduce such a Bill came in the top six in the ballot, and if one of my colleagues who had come higher on the list had introduced one, I should have been happy to proceed with a different Bill. However, in the negotiations that

7 Apr 2000 : Column 1265

took place among the Labour Members who had been successful in the ballot, it fell to me to bring this Bill back to the House.

It is virtually the same Bill as the one that we debated previously. We have made the necessary textual amendments to take account of the changes relating to the constitutional position of Scotland. We have not taken any similar measures relating to the constitutional position of Northern Ireland, because it changes so frequently. However, that is a matter that could be taken on board if the Northern Ireland Assembly ever comes fully into being again.

I shall be brief, because I know that many Members wish to raise points, including points of objection.

Mr. Andrew Lansley (South Cambridgeshire): I am interested in the hon. Gentleman's observations about his choice of private Member's Bill. Does he agree that the choice of a Bill that bears little relevance to his constituency or to London is entirely in keeping with his past contributions to the House? I am reliably informed that 61.6 per cent. of his contributions over 12 years to December last year were on the subjects of Northern Ireland, defence, and chemical, biological or atomic weaponry, but that only 6.7 per cent.--barely one tenth of the previous figure--related to London.

Mr. Livingstone: In that case, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be glad to see me widening my sphere of interest. In reality, in my 13 years in the House, I have voted for every measure to protect animal welfare and I have supported every early-day motion calling for a ban on hunting. I have always been opposed to hunting and, had another Member been happy to introduce this Bill, I would have gone ahead with my second choice, which would have been a Bill to extend the rights of carers--my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) has proceeded with that. However, given the weight of opinion in the House that is behind this Bill, I thought it right to introduce it.

I deliberately left the Bill as late in the private Members' Bills cycle as possible, because I know that the Government are awaiting the decision of the Burns inquiry, which is proceeding apace. It is interesting that, as the Burns inquiry has come into being, the Countryside Alliance and those who wish to retain hunting have constantly scaled down their alarming figures about job losses. In particular, the report from Sean Rickard, the former chief economist of the National Farmers Union who is now at the Cranfield school of management, contains evidence that blows a hole in the argument of those who depict a ban on hunting as some sort of disaster that will afflict rural areas and the countryside.

Mr. Nicholas Soames (Mid-Sussex): Will the hon. Gentleman take it from me that the construction of the figures is difficult to argue in the abstract? However, the fact is that were hunting to be banned, there would be very significant job losses. I am sure that he would not want that. Although in some rural areas there are job opportunities, in others--and particularly those where

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hunting is strongest--there are very few. The hon. Gentleman cannot just dismiss the issue of employment on the basis of an argument between two people.

Mr. Livingstone: As the hon. Gentleman knows, I am not currently able to speak for the Government. However, I do not have the slightest doubt that the Government of Britain would not stand by if there were job losses. They would introduce programmes to make certain that the problem was dealt with, and new work would be created. However, the argument on job losses sounds awfully like the debate that went on about pigeon shooting until world war one. Pigeons were released to be shot out of the sky and tales of woe foretold the collapse of the rural economy if live pigeon shooting were to be banned and replaced by clay pigeon shooting. All those arguments turned out to be wrong; clay pigeon shooting became an industry that created more work and enriched the countryside.

Equally, the Labour party--which I hope, one day, to be back in--now represents more rural areas than the Conservative party. The idea that this Government would neglect rural interests flies in the face of the facts.

I believe genuinely that if we ban hunting mammals with hounds--foxes, deer and--

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